Jitka Lindén

Jitka Lindén has looked more closely at the special relationship between supervisors and doctoral students. According to Jitka, the doctoral student is not always the weaker part of the relationship.

Jitka Lindén is a professor of psychology at Lund University. For a long time, she’s been interested in the relationship supervisor-doctoral student, in particular from the supervisor’s perspective. In 1987, she was assigned by Chalmers University to hold a course in doctoral supervision, her first.

”At that time, there was absolutely nothing written about this. It was pure pioneer work.”

A special relationship

Jitka gets her inspiration from research on supervision that’s been carried out in professional areas like psychotherapy and social work. With models from this research, she placed the relationship between the supervisor and doctoral student in a bigger context, both organisational and social. It’s a very special relationship in many ways:

”It’s two adults where one of them, thanks to his or her position as doctoral students, winds up in a dependent relationship. The purpose of the supervision is special – to support the doctoral student’s development into an independent individual and worker. It’s not only about learning a skill set but is also to a high degree identity development. It’s a very long process and a lot happens in a person’s life over the course of four or five years.”

Traditionally, doctoral students are seen as the dependent partner, but Jitka Lindén says that it’s currently quite common with a reversal in the power level of the two roles. While many supervisors work with unguaranteed short contracts, a doctoral student that does well has a guaranteed four year position. The supervisor often finds himself or herself dependent on their doctoral students in order to complete their projects and in that way guarantee continued financing.

”The supervisor perhaps has finally secured funding from some government research funding body and promised to deliver results within a specific time period. If the doctoral student quits, panic ensues!”

Bring up problems early

In her seminars, Jitka provides space for sharing actual experiences and practical tips on how the supervisor and doctoral student can build a good working relationship. If a professor has accepted a position as supervisor, it’s work that must be prioritised and she points out that the supervisor must have support from the department. She also has advice for the doctoral students:

”It’s important that you’re proactive and plan how you’re going to get through the next four years. Decide what you want to accomplish, learn what the prerequisites are and be clear about the expectations. You don’t have to love your supervisor, but you must develop a work alliance within the framework of a professional relationship.”

”Another tip is to bring up problems early. Many doctoral students continue way too long with a gut feeling that the relationship isn’t working, without saying anything. You have to talk about supervision!”

University leadership bears the responsibility

Of the thousands of supervisors Jitka Lindén has met, she’s determined that only a few procent were unsuitable. She believes the brunt of the responsibility lies with the higher education institution that doesn’t dare do anything about them.

”Today, we unfortunately have weak leadership, all the way from the Vice-Chancellor down to the head of department. They’re the ones who should manage these individuals, set limits and, as a last resort, remover them from a supervisory position – they have the formal power to do so.”

Page last updated 2016-03-04